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Vegan Diet
February 2003

Q. I'm thinking of adopting a vegan diet. I've done a little research and it seems healthy if it's balanced right. The thing is, I'm a collegiate, competitive athlete and I know my body needs different amounts of nutrients, especially protein, calcium etc. Is a vegetarian diet right for an athlete? If so, how do I go about easing into it so I don't risk depleting my energy levels?

A. A vegan diet can be very healthy as it will be low in fat, high in fiber and nutrients if a variety of foods are included. It does present a challenge to a competitive athlete in some ways. An athlete in training will need more calories, protein, fluids, carbohydrates, iron, and calcium than a sedentary person of the same age. The calories and carbs will just come from a greater amount of food.

Protein can come from soy products and legumes in a vegan diet so this will require some planning. An athlete needs about 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, so a nutritionist may need to help you calculate the amount. Calcium comes primarily from dairy products; 1200 milligrams per day are recommended for adolescents, equivalent to 4 glasses of milk.

Calcium supplements may be needed if the diet does not provide this. And iron is present in meat, and to a lesser degree in dark green vegetables. Periodic blood tests may be needed to insure that this need is met. Tracking your weight will guide you as to whether overall calorie needs are being met. Good luck!



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